ORONO, Maine — It was a struggle, but the University of Maine men’s hockey team survived a gritty performance from the last-place University of Vermont Catamounts to earn a hard-fought, 3-1 Hockey East triumph Wednesday night at the Alfond Arena.
It was Maine’s third straight win and sixth in its last seven games.
Maine is now 9-7-2 overall and 6-6-1 in Hockey East. UVM lost for the sixth time in its last seven games and is now 4-14-1 and 1-10-1, respectively.
Maine snapped a three-game home losing streak in Hockey East play and completed a series sweep of the Catamounts, who were without leading goal scorer Connor Brickley (World Junior Championships in Calgary).
Joey Diamond’s power-play goal at the 13:25 mark of the second period snapped a 1-1 tie and turned out to be the game-winner after the teams swapped power-play goals in the first period.
Brian Flynn’s empty-net goal iced it with 15.9 seconds left.
Sebastian Stalberg opened the scoring for the Catamounts at the 14:36 mark of the first period before Adam Shemansky equalized 2:26 later.
“It was a real good win,” said Maine sophomore goalie Dan Sullivan, who finished with 25 saves in a stellar performance including a pair off H.T. Lenz breakaways in the second period.
Those represented two of his 13 Grade-A (high-percentage) stops over the 60 minutes.
“It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t easy. We had to grind it out,” added Sullivan. “Vermont played a good game.”
The Catamounts received a terrific outing from senior goalie Rob Madore, who wound up with 40 saves, including 25 Grade-A’s.
His Catamount mates blocked 13 Black Bear shots as Maine attempted 77 shots to UVM’s 40.
Diamond’s sixth goal in his last six games was set up by a pinpoint pass from Mark Anthoine, who had the puck at the side of the net to Madore’s left.
“I heard Joey yelling so I passed it across as hard as I could because they had two defensemen [in front],” explained Anthoine.
“That was a great pass by Mark,” said Diamond, who was camped at the edge of the crease at the far post. “It was a tap-in goal from there.”
Madore shouldered blame for the goal.
“I could have played it better,” said Madore. “I overcommitted to [Anthoine]. They like to go to the net [from Anthoine’s spot]. Diamond put it over my pad.”
Vermont, the nation’s worst penalty-killing team with a 69.1 percent success rate, had killed off a two-man disadvantage that spanned 1:09 early in the second period.
But a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty produced the power play that was converted by Diamond. He now has a team-high 12 goals.
Shemansky nearly extended the lead later in the period but his redirection off a Matt Mangene pass hit the far post.
Sullivan played his role with the two saves off Lenz, who broke in alone following Bear turnovers while Maine was on the power play and tried to beat Sullivan between the pads.
“I was able to get good reads on them. I stopped them with my stick,” said Sullivan.
Stalberg scored off assists from Drew MacKenzie and Kyle Reynolds during a wild flurry in front of the net.
The puck squirted across the goal line to the base of the right circle and Stalberg’s wrister beat Sullivan.
“I got most of it but it went between my glove and my pad,” said Sullivan.
“[Sullivan] played a great game again,” said Maine senior left wing Spencer Abbott, who set up Shemansky’s tying goal.
Abbott had a shot from the midpoint blocked by a Catamount but the puck came right back to him and he threaded the needle to Shemansky, positioned behind Madore to the goalie’s right.
“I saw the goalie was out and Shemansky was behind him so I was hoping [Shemansky] would be able to deflect it in,” said Abbott.
That’s exactly what happened as Shemansky coolly redirected it into the vacant net.
Maine had an edge in territorial play but the Catamounts did an efficient job clogging up the neutral zone and protecting their net front, limiting the Black Bears’ odd-man rushes and rebound opportunities.
“The big thing is that it’s two points,” said Abbott.
Madore thought his team played very well in front of him and credited Sullivan for his performance.
“He made some real nice saves when they needed them,” said Madore.
The feeling was mutual.
“[Madore] made some huge stops to keep them in it. The score could have been much different [if it wasn’t for Madore],” said Sullivan. “His lateral movement was real good.”
Sullivan also praised his mates for doing an excellent job in front of him.
“I didn’t have a lot to do,” said Sullivan.
Maine went 2-for-8 on the power play compared to Vermont’s 1-for-7 showing.
Maine had a season-high 43 shots on goal.
UVM coach Kevin Sneddon said he “couldn’t have been any prouder” of the way his team played and called Madore’s play “sensational.”
“It was like a playoff game. Both teams were blocking shots and both were finishing their checks,” said Sneddon, who considers Maine’s top line of Flynn between Abbott and Diamond among the best in the country, if not the best.
“And I thought we did a good job on them five-on-five,” said Sneddon who also considered Sullivan’s performance impressive.
“He’s only given up four goals in his last three games,” noted Sneddon.